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Overview

Travelling mostly by  train, self-guided and on foot, discover the real local culture and backstreets of Japan’s iconic cities. With stays along the way at traditional ryokans and boutique hotels this is a truly unique experience of Japan’s nature, culture, history, art and all things in between.

Trip Highlights

Boutique Experience of Japan

Self guided discovery of Japan

Have the option of discovering the lesser-known sites of Tokyo and Kyoto with a self-guide application or choose from a variety of optional tours.

Nakasendo Trail Walking

Discover the ancient Edo Period town of Nakasendo and be amazed by the amazing architecture of historical buildings, fields of local farmers and peaceful woodlands.

Taste culinary delights of Osaka

Tuck into the famous delights of Japan’s culinary capital on a street food tour and savour unique and tasty delights.

Itinerary

1

Arrival in Tokyo

Narita International Airport (NRT) to Central Tokyo: 1.5 hHaneda International Airport (HND) to Central Tokyo: 50 min

Upon arrival to Tokyo’s airport, be greeted by a representative and assisted with transportation into the city (either boarding the right train or finding the appropriate shuttle bus). The remainder of the day is free at leisure.

Overnight in Tokyo

2

Tokyo

Start (guided tour): 09:00Duration: 8 h*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

Meet up with the guide this morning at the hotel for the trip to Hamarikyu, a Japanese garden that once served as a private villa of a powerful feudal lord during the Edo period. Its wide collection of seasonal flowers makes it one of the most visited gardens in Tokyo, however its most attractive aspect is its teahouse called Nakajima-no-Ochaya.

Enjoy a break in the teahouse and a cup of freshly made green tea while the guide shares interesting facts about sado (tea ceremony).

From the park, take a scenic river cruise to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also home to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops and are a delight to wander through.

The tour ends with a visit to Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and a popular venue for traditional Shinto weddings.

The shrine is also home to around 120,000 trees, making one forget that just outside its grounds are two of the city’s popular shopping districts, Harajuku and Omotesando.

Note: The order of this itinerary may change depending on the location of the hotel.

Overnight in Tokyo

3

Tokyo

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Enjoy the rest of the day exploring this amazing city. Make an early start to visit the electronics district of Akihabara or discover Tokyo’s world-class museums and art galleries.

Alternatively, take an excursion in Kamakura. One of Japan’s former capitals, Kamakura is a delightful seaside town home to many ancient shrines, temples, and other structures like the Daibutsu, a giant bronze Buddha that stands at 13-meter tall.

Distance and journey time (approximation):

JR Tokyo Station to JR Kamakura Station: 50 min

Optional Tour: Tokyo Street Photography Tour

Enjoy multi-faceted Tokyo through the lens of a camera with this street photography workshop.

The English-speaking guide is an expert photographer who will lead a small group tour through Tokyo’s lively backstreets and around its iconic destinations. The guide will be waiting at a train station and will provide a brief introduction to photography in Tokyo.

Receive some insider tips on how to catch the best photos and get a glimpse of lesser known but highly photogenic places that few tourists get to discover.

Hands-on advice will be given throughout; the tour is ideal for beginners as well as experienced photographers and photography enthusiasts.

Professional cameras as well as tripods can be rented at an additional charge and guests will receive the memory card at the end of the workshop.

Depending on the day, the tour can take place at different locations; each tour includes hidden gems of the city. Not only is this experience a great photography workshop, it’s also an exciting walking tour around Tokyo’s quaint streets and lively neighborhoods.

Time:

Start: starting time varies depending on the season (usually 15:00 or 17:00).

Duration: 2.5 h

Optional Tour: Tokyo Architecture Tour

Today’s tour begins at 09:30. Tokyo’s eclectic and diverse blend of stunning landmarks and modern architecture ensures the city’s skyline is one of the most distinctive and recognisable in the world. Whether they love it or loathe it, visitors cannot help but notice the futuristic structures and soaring skyscrapers that rise above the traditional buildings, punctuating Tokyo’s cityscape with fresh, ultra-modern designs.

Many of the buildings in the city are featured in architecture textbooks or have been awarded international architecture prizes. Some of them, such as the National Museum of Western Art, even feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

On this tour, discover more about Tokyo’s contemporary and traditional architecture by visiting some of its iconic landmarks, from shrines and temples to shopping boutiques and Olympic stadiums, and learn about the superstar architects behind the designs, such as Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Kenzo Tange and SANAA. Along the way, stop to admire Japan’s emerging architectural works and observe the quirky and unusual features of Tokyo’s innovative buildings.

Accompanied by a professional, highly knowledgeable guide, explore the best architectural gems the city has to offer. In addition to this, it is also the perfect chance to explore some of Tokyo’s most iconic neighbourhoods, and discover how these contemporary buildings connect with the capital’s rich history and culture.

Time:

Start: 09:30

Duration: 8 h

Optional Tour: Treasures of Shimokitazawa

This morning at 10:00, in the company of a local, Shimokitazawa-loving guide with a passion for youth culture, stray off the beaten track and explore the distinctive culture of the area, with its youthful, bohemian atmosphere peppered with retro shops. After meeting at Sasazuka Station, the tour will head to several locations, where quirky antiques and assorted treasures can be found. 

Enjoy a delicious lunch and a delightful cup of coffee in excellent company in this eclectic neighbourhood, before ending the tour and heading off with some wonderful memories.

Time

Start: 10:00

Duration: 4 h

Overnight in Tokyo

4

Tokyo – Nakasendo

Tokyo Station to Kiso-Fukushima Station: 3 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Start the journey in the afternoon through Nakasendo in Kiso Valley, one of the five routes that branched off the former capital of Japan.

The short bullet train ride from Kyoto to Nagoya is then followed by the scenic journey on the limited express train Wide View. Upon arrival at Kiso-Fukushima Station, check-in into the hotel.

Overnight in Kiso-Fukushima

5

Nakasendo trail walking

Kiso-Fukushima station to Nakatsugawa station: 0.5 hNakatsugawa station to Magome: 15 min (bus or taxi)

Today is a self-guided day.

Today start the journey to Tsumago, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo Period. Tsumago is now a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site, thanks to the collective effort of its locals to preserve most of the remaining historical buildings.

The trail that runs between Magome and Tsumago is perhaps the most popular section of Nakasendo.

Leave the accommodation in the morning after a Japanese-style breakfast, ride a train to Nakatsugawa and later, a bus to Magome, the start of the Nakasendo Trail. Today’s walk will alternate between well preserved old towns, fields of local farmers and peaceful woodlands.

This trail can be completed in about 3 hours, including some quick breaks (i.e. restroom, tea/coffee).

After concluding the trail, ride a bus to Nagiso and a train to the ryokan in Kiso-Fukushima. Upon arrival, enjoy a nice soak in the onsen before a plentiful dinner.

Overnight in Kiso-Fukushima

Optional Service: There is an optional private transfer from the end of the trail to the ryokan (extra charge).

6

Nakasendo – Kyoto

Kiso-Fukushima Station to Kyoto Station: 2.5 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Before getting on the bullet train to Kyoto, guests have the option to head out in the morning for a forest bathing experience.

Optional Tour: Forest Bathing Excursion

The benefits of forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku, have long been known in Japan. This practice of connecting mindfully with nature was developed in Japan in the 1980s, and its therapeutic effects have been enjoyed by the Japanese ever since. Forest bathing has now spread globally, with people all over the world seeking out woodland areas to enhance their wellbeing.

As an option, spend the morning indulging in shirin-yoku forest therapy. Stroll along the trails that pass through the magnificent, towering Kiso cypress trees of the Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest and allow the tranquil and healing atmosphere to work its magic.

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight in Kyoto

7

Kyoto

Start (guided tour): 09:00Duration: 4 h*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

Today’s tour starts with a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was originally built to serve as the private villa of a powerful feudal lord. The main building was completed in early 1600s and has since then been known for its Momoyama-style architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping nightingale” floors.

Next on the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden and known to be the home of the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Just a short distance from Ryoan-ji is the stunning golden pavilion collectively known as Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple grounds are relatively smaller than that of most temples and shrines in Kyoto, but what is undoubtedly impressive is the pavilion that is completely covered in handmade goldleaf.

Optional Tour: A Taste of Gion Food Tour

Kyoto’s Gion district is often cited as many a visitor’s favourite part of the city. The historic cobblestone streets are lined with traditional, narrow wooden buildings known as machiya, teahouses known as ochaya, and traditional shops selling local specialities.  

The first stop is a lively standing bar, where guests can enjoy a drink and delicious local bar food as a prelude to the rest of the tour. After this, take a leisurely stroll around Gion. As most geisha start to entertain at 18:00, the chance of seeing elegantly attired geisha darting along the winding streets to their engagements is quite high.

Then, head to a cozy restaurant owned by a charming and amiable woman from Kyoto who prepares each meal herself. Enjoy an entertaining conversation with her, while sampling each dish, which is prepared with the utmost care and attention, using the finest seasonal ingredients.

The final stop of the tour is a sake bar with a location so clandestine even locals struggle to find it. Partake in different varieties of sake, chosen to complement the selection of nibbles.

After this delightful evening well spent, either return to the accommodation or continue to explore the city independently.

Time:

Start: 17:00

Duration: approx. 3 h

Overnight in Kyoto

8

Kyoto

Start (guided tour): 10:00Duration: 4.5 h*including pick-up/drop-off and transfer timesDistance and journey time (approximation):Kyoto Station to Shiga Station: 40 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Optional Tour: Lake Biwa Wellness Retreat

This tour begins at 10:00. Meet the guide at Shiga Station, which is located approximately 40 minutes north of Kyoto.

First make a brief stop at Juge Shrine, which is located in a small forest looking out on to Lake Biwa. The locals have taken great care of it over the centuries, and a goddess is said to be enshrined here. Enjoy a tranquil moment in this spiritual space before heading to the meditation and yoga/Pilates class, which will be held in a traditional Japanese farmhouse.

Feel all cares and worries melt away through breathwork, and stretch and strengthen muscles through a combination of yoga and Pilates exercises. Look within and enjoy this moment of peace and serenity in total relaxation before learning how to prepare an authentic and healthy homemade Japanese meal with homegrown vegetables and rice. Be sure to sample some homemade pickles during the meal.

After a leisurely lunch, stroll back to Shiga Station and head back to Kyoto to wind down at the hotel or keep exploring independently.

Overnight in Kyoto

9

Kyoto – Naoshima

Okayama Station to Uno Station: 45 minUno Station to Uno Port: 5 min (on foot)Uno Port to Miyanoura Port: 15 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

After docking at Miyanoura Port, stop by the tourist information center to get some helpful maps, buy some local snacks or even rent a bicycle.

Stay a bit longer around the area and take some photos of the iconic red pumpkin, one of the outdoor sculptures by the Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama.

Stop by I U (‘I Love You’), a combination of art and public bathhouse (sento) showcasing various styles of wall art and design.

On the eastern side of Naoshima is Ando Museum. The world-renowned architect worked on the interior design of the museum using his signature plain-concrete structure that comes in contrast with the façade, which is a traditional Japanese-style house.

From here, take the local bus to Tsutsuji-so and find another iconic work of Yayoi Kusama. Before catching the complimentary shuttle to the Benesse House, take some time to relax on the beach.

Notes:

  • Most of the museums and art galleries on Naoshima are closed on Mondays.
  • Guests staying at the Benesse House can use the free shuttle service from Tsutsuji-so bus stop to Chichu Art Museum Ticket Center bus stop. Benesse House Museum and Lee Ufan Museum are in between these stops. Moreover, clients also have free access to the Benesse House Museum, which is open from 08:00 to 21:00.

Overnight on Naoshima

10

Naoshima

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Start with the Chichu Art Museum, another signature work of Tadao Ando known for its manifestation of the relationship between mankind and Mother Nature. Ando designed the museum in a way that it does not disrupt the natural beauty of Seto region, constructing the entire building almost completely underground. Aside from the impressive architectural design, the works of James Turrell, Claude Monet, and Walter de Maria can also be enjoyed.

Next is the Lee Ufan Museum, the result of the collaboration between Lee Ufan and Tadao Ando. The theme of this museum circles around the tranquility and stillness of life and its harmonious existence with nature.

Overnight in Naoshima

11

Naoshima – Osaka

Start: 16:45Duration: approx. 3.5 h

Today head to Osaka, Japan’s culinary capital. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people, and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist attractions. In the evening, Discover Osaka through a local street food tour.

Osaka is an epicurean’s delight. Indeed, the motto that the city’s exuberant inhabitants live by is kuiadore – ‘to eat oneself bankrupt.’ 

The first stop will be at a street food stall to get a taste of some traditional Japanese snack food, menchi katsu. Menchi katsu is a breaded and deep-fried patty made of ground meat. Golden and crisp, this is a local favourite.

Next, head to a standing bar to enjoy the ambience and taste a selection of sake and Japanese wine, along with delicious house specialties. Then, head to a restaurant specialising in wagyu beef dishes. Often referred to as the most expensive beef in the world, wagyu beef is of a superb quality, and is on many a gourmet’s wish list. Enjoy the melt-in-the-mouth textures with a refreshing cocktail.

The final stop will be to try a new style of tempura in an eatery tucked away in a small alleyway. Old favourites such as shrimp tempura, and more experimental combinations such as asparagus tempura and cheese can be found on the menu.

Bid farewell to the affable guide, and either return to the hotel or go for a stroll around the neighbourhood to take in the sights. 

Overnight in Osaka

12

Departure from Osaka

Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 45 min

The rest of the day is at leisure until the scheduled transfer by train to Kansai International Airport.

Important Information

Our Services Include:

  • Hotel accommodation with daily breakfast
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
  • English meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport
  • PASMO Transport Pass for local transportation in Tokyo with 1,500 JPY worth of credits

(Note: Additional credits will be charged by our guides to cover transportation during guided days. Clients are free to further charge their card should they wish to make use of it during self-guided days).

  • 7-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 4
  • English-speaking guides for tours on Days 2 (supplementary charges apply for other languages)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2
  • Japanese cultural experience in Kyoto on Day 6
  • Flavours of Osaka Food Tour on Day 10
  • Self-guide app and customized travel documentation

Our Services Do Not Include:

  • International and domestic flights (quoted separately)
  • Some local transport
  • Meals other than mentioned above
  • Personal expenses (e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone, and other expenditures of a personal nature)
  • Travel insurance (please see below)
  • Other services not clearly indicated in the package inclusions above

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    Please fill in the appropriate information below regarding any travel plans or enquiries. Our team of travel experts will get back to you shortly.

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    We’re experts who take pride in tailor-made itineraries that suit any need. Please fill in the form below and a member of our team will be in touch shortly.

    Please fill in the appropriate information below regarding any travel plans or enquiries. Our team of travel experts will get back to you shortly.

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